Dover Castle

Dover Castle

Introduction

One of the most famous castles in England awaits you!

One of the largest castles in the country, favourably positioned at the shortest crossing point to Europe, Dover Castle has played an important part in the country’s national history. Its origins lie back in the Iron Age, and a Roman Lighthouse and Anglo-Saxon church can still be seen within the grounds.

William of Normandy strengthened existing Anglo-Saxon fortifications here in 1066, but it was Henry II who established the outline for today's castle when he had the fortifications rebuilt in the 1180s, adding the enormous keep and a series of concentric defences. Over the centuries, the defences were repeatedly enlarged and improved, with the castle retaining a military role into the mid twentieth century. An underground hospital and the command centre used for the Dunkirk evacuation are a legacy from the Second World War.

Originally the site may have been fortified with earthworks in the Iron Age or earlier, before the Romans invaded in AD43. The site also contained one of Dover's two 80 foot high Roman lighthouses, one of which still survives. From the Cinque Ports' foundation in 1050, Dover was always a principal member.

It was during the reign of Henry II that the castle began to take its recognisable shape. The inner and outer baileys and the great keep belong to this time. Maurice the Engineer was responsible for building the keep and it was one of the last rectangular ones ever built. In 1216, a group of rebel barons invited Louis VIII of France to come and take the English crown. He had some success breaking through the walls but was unable ultimately to take the castle. The vulnerable north gate that had been breached in the siege was converted into an underground forward-defence complex (including St John's Tower), and new gates built into the outer curtain wall on the western (Fitzwilliam's Gate) and eastern (Constable's Gate) sides.

In Tudor times the defences themselves had been made somewhat obsolete by gunpowder. They were improved by Henry VIII, who made a personal visit, and added to with the Moat Bulwark. Massive rebuilding took place at the end of the eighteenth century during the Napoleonic Wars. William Twiss, the Commanding Engineer of the Southern District, as part of his brief to improve the town’s defences, completed the improvement of the outer defences of Dover Castle adding the huge Horseshoe, Hudson's, East Arrow and East Demi-Bastions to provide extra gun positions on the eastern side, and constructing the Constable's Bastion for additional protection on the west. Twiss further strengthened the Spur at the northern end of the castle, adding a redan or raised gun platform. By taking the roof off the keep and replacing it with massive brick vaults he was able to mount heavy artillery on the top. Twiss also constructed Canon's Gateway to link the defences of the castle with those of the town.

With Dover becoming a garrison town, there was a need for barracks and storerooms for the additional troops and their equipment. The answer found by Twiss and the Royal Engineers was to create a complex of barracks tunnels about 15 metres below the cliff top and the first troops were housed in 1803. At the height of the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnels contained more than 2000 men and to date are the only underground barracks ever built in Britain.

At the end of the Napoleonic Wars, the tunnels were partly converted and used by the Coast Blockade Service to battle smuggling. This was a short term venture though and in 1826 the headquarters were moved closer to shore. The tunnels then remained abandoned for more than a century.

The outbreak of the Second World War in 1939 saw the tunnels converted first into an air-raid shelter and then later into a military command centre and underground hospital. In May 1940, Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsey directed the evacuation of French and British soldiers from Dunkirk, code-named Operation Dynamo, from his headquarters in the cliff tunnels.

Today the castle, secret tunnels and surrounding land are now owned by English Heritage and the site is a major tourist attraction. The Lord Warden of the Cinque Ports is officially head of the castle, in his conjoint position of Constable of Dover Castle, and the Deputy Constable has his residence in Constable's Gate.

Opening Times:
Please check before visiting as times change year on year.
1 Apr-31 Jul Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
1-31 Aug Mon-Sun 9.30am-6pm
1-30 Sept Mon-Sun 10am-6pm
1-31 Oct Mon-Sun 10am-5pm
1 Nov-31 Jan Mon, Thur-Sun 10am-4pm
1 Feb-20 Mar Mon-Sun 10am-4pm

The castle is closed 24-26 Dec and 1 Jan

The castle is east of Dover town centre on Castle Hill. Tel: 01304 211067.


Disclaimer: The information on this leisure attraction was presented with the best of intentions. Any reported errors will be corrected immediately. People interested in contacting the above leisure attraction should confirm for themselves the accuracy of any data presented.

Last Updated: 28 Apr 2015